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Tony Abbott’s onion legacy

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The onion is one of the most cultivated species of the genus ‘Allium’, has been eaten since as early as 5000 BC, and is a rich source of energy and vitamins. We know it as the vegetable that causes us to tear up and use it in some of the most popular dishes on the planet.

It was also devoured, raw, by our former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, on live television much to the horror of Australians.

Now that Abbott has exited as leader, he has been commemorated on twitter with the hashtag #putoutyouronions with photos of onions, mocking the legacy of the former leader.

It’s strange that a man would eat a raw onion like an apple. It’s stranger that we think it’s strange. After all, an onion is just food.

From an early age, we all learn to categorise food. We start with simple categories like ‘yucky’ and ‘yummy’. My daughters have started to differentiate between ‘food’ and ‘treats’ realising that some food is yucky, some is yummy and some foods are something much nicer.

Many of us can probably remember those confronting moments in childhood when we were informed that a tomato is actually a fruit not a vegetable.

Throughout our adult lives, we continue to encounter unusual food habits. Cooks amaze us by combining unusual combinations of ingredients on the plate, such as bacon and maple syrup, and coca cola and chicken.

Chef Heston Blumenthal has made a name for himself by toying with our expectations, such as creating an icecream dessert that looks exactly like a boiled egg . The conflict with our taste buds and head creates an exciting experience.

Egg and toast

Our food categories  and rules for what’s normal are always being re-written and challenged.

These culinary expectations are also reinforced by our cultural experiences. It’s quite common for individuals to eat unusual dishes such as insects in China, Haggis (sheep’s stomach) in Scotland, and Vegemite (yeast extract) in Australia. When you enter these cultures for the first time, you are more likely to accept that these choices aren’t wrong. You just haven’t gotten used to them yet.

However, within our own culture, we can instinctively ostracise and ridicule somebody who steps outside our own cultural norms.

At the heart of this behaviour is our social identity, which is our shared values, behaviours and practices that unify us. When someone departs from this social identity, we can distance them, placing them into an ‘out-group’.

Deviations from norms seems to be especially personal with food. Most of us have been in that situation where we felt obliged to eat more when we weren’t hungry so not to offend the host. We’ve probably all been shunned when we refuse to partake in a meal or try something new.

Of course, in some situations, these norm violations can be endearing rather than shocking. Imagine if Johnny Depp was filmed chomping on an onion during an interview for a movie. No doubt this kind of behaviour might simply reinforce our views about his idiosyncratic personality.

A politician, however, needs to be more cautious with their branding. They need to be conservative and ‘normal’ yet also relatable and interesting. They need to be hardworking and focussed but also shown to be light-hearted and relaxed.

Tony Abbott has always branded himself with strong conservative morals and values. Perhaps munching on an onion was an impulsive moment he wanted to show his lighter side.

Comedian, Ricky Gervais, recently said in an interview, ‘Clowns aren’t funny because they try to make you laugh. An angry man not meaning to be funny, have something happening to him like falling over and it’s always funny.’ Replace the word ‘angry’ with ‘serious’ and it helps explain why Abbott eating the onion is so amusing. It juxtaposes with his usual stoic demeanour or what he is painfully trying to project.

But our fascination with this onion tells us a lot about the observers too. We are quick to ostracise and judge people who divert from norms because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We are also quick to turn on our politicians and mock them.

A psychologist who specialises in eating disorders once explained to me that there are very few things that are more personal that what choose to consume in our bodies. His view was that society’s fascination with what everyone is eating drives a preoccupation with food. What people consume, he argues, is nobody’s business.

In short, it’s probably our unhealthy preoccupation with the onion that’s really the problem.

Better not start with the time former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ate his own earwax…


Running away or chasing? What are you selling?

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

As a naïve, young researcher, I walked into an advertising agency hopeful that they would be excited to sponsor my research. Of course, I was dealing with the ultimate salespeople and there was no chance I would be able to match their ability to pitch and influence.

The research looked at whether we could tailor advertisements to be more credible if they aligned with the regulatory focus of people. People are…

…wait a minute. Let me sell it to you like the ad man…

Some ads are made to make you feel insecure, like deodorant commercials. Other ads are flogging you a dream or idea to make you feel happy.

The first lot of ads correspond to a prevention focus. When individuals are concerned about their prevention needs, they are especially worried or concerned with fulfilling their social obligations. Or, as the ad man would say, they’re worried they’ll smell.

The second lot of ads are related to a promotion focus, which is a fixation on ideals and aspirations. The ad man would refer to that luxury car you dream about or the holiday cruise.

How you position yourself or your organisation may very well hinge on whether your audience are promotion or prevention focussed.

Say your customer is after some innovative, blue sky ideas. You may feel the need to provide these ideas but also back up the idea with assurance of risk management and fact checking.

Interestingly, research suggests that combining more abstract and creative messaging (promotion) with vigilant messaging (prevention) affects your overall credibility. That is, people instinctively reject the message.

Organisations that develop visions and missions often try to integrate lots of ideas in one, simple message. Their efforts are admirable. They are aiming to cover everything that they do in one message.

However, often these messages end up getting tangled and ultimately become fairly meaningless. For example, depicting some future utopia may inspire the audience up until you bombard them with messages about fixing immediate issues. Suddenly, that inspirational message gets caught up in the here and now.

The opposite can also be true. If your customers associate your brand with prevention, then you may alienate these customers by highlighting the aspirational aims of the organisation.

Do you exist to make your customer feel secure or to help them realise their ideas?

It isn’t all about the organisation. You also have your own brand. Do people come to you because you come up with the ideas or do they rely on you as the diligent finisher who dots all their ‘i’s and crosses all the ‘t’s?

If you are a working in a role where prevention is a key consideration, then you may find that your ideas are perceived as less important than your ability to provide your internal customers with confidence. If your role is about dreaming big, people may find your preoccupation with protocols to be a drawback.

Perhaps this is why the ad man rejected my pitch. Maybe my research and delivery felt too mechanical and diligent. The message was not enough luxury vehicle and too much bad body odour.

Here are examples of vision statements that align with either a prevention or promotion focus.

Prevention Messages

World Vision

Our mission is to be a Christian organisation that engages people to eliminate poverty and its causes.

Obesity Society

Better understand, prevent and treat obesity to improve the lives of those affected through research, education and advocacy.


To prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection.

Promotion Messages

Coca Cola

To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…To create value and make a difference.


Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.


At eBay, our mission is to provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world

Can you control the odd billion changes that are occurring right now?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

In just one minute, 243,000 photos will be uploaded to Facebook. One-hundred and forty four people will move to a new home. Approximately 136, 824, 00 pounds of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere.

You are changing constantly and so is everything around you.

Larger organisations are essentially all about responding to and enacting changes on a massive scale. In the face of these dynamic environments, we set up support structures to ensure that change can occur as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Buildings go up. Bridges are built.

It’s essential that there are dedicated people to help remove all obstacles so that people can focus on the changes that count.

Think about the challenges of a Human Resource team. New people enter organisations every week. Employees leave.

Human Resources need to ensure this occurs as effectively as possible whilst trying to work out what type of person they want to enter and which ones they want to retain, train, and how to go about building all the qualities we want in people.

You may believe the best approach to bringing this stability and achieving long-term success is to control things centrally, like a mother ship or a queen bee. To ensure consistency and compliance, everything goes through a controlled decision-making group.

This approach may involve enforcing the policies and standards and having final say on all capability decisions. If you tend to believe that change needs to be controlled, then you may prefer this centralised approach.

Think about the trusty ol’ iPhone. What if Apple adopted a centralised approach managing their customers?

What if they found ways to penalise you if you didn’t use this phone? What if after purchasing the phone, they told you there was a series of mandatory training programs you will need to attend before you can switch it on?

This may seem odd, but it’s essentially what organisations do everyday when we occupy a more centralised approach to managing change.

In contrast, you may believe that change needs to be embraced and that you are better off letting people surf the waves rather than restricting them in the swimming pool. You may, instead, give people the swimming lessons and surf board, and allow them to tumble off the surfboard from time to time.

If you hold beliefs that people need freedom and autonomy, therefore, you may prefer a decentralised approach to providing support. That is, you are there to enable and influence rather than ensure compliance.

This approach more closely aligns with a ‘customer service’ approach to support where you are essentially there to help people.

Take a safety support function that desperately wants to lower injury rates. Their tendency may be to initiate more standards, procedures, rules, and audits. The importance of their goal, after all, is something we can’t deny.

What if, instead, they adopted a decentralised, customer-centric approach? They could, for example, build resilience and motivation, which could help maintain alertness and situation awareness. This approach also has the benefit of being more flexible to the inevitable changes that surround us.

The centralised approach is too easy. We mandate a new rule then shake our heads in disbelief when these important rules are ignored or bent.

Of course, simply responding mindlessly to customers can be risky. A doctor, for example, who simply orders an operation that a patient demands is not really looking after their customer.

For internal support services, responding quickly and efficiently to customers can also mean that lots of new changes occur that create confusion and may not align with the broader organisational goals.

Ultimately, it probably boils down to what a customer needs rather than what a customer wants.

And now we’ve reached the end of the blog, just reflect on how much has changed.

About 116 people just got married. 58 airplanes just took off. About seven billion human hearts beat 500,500,000,000 times.

Mother ship, this is Dr Duck. How are we going to control all of this?



Last month, my colleague, Maurice Cristiano, and myself, conducted some research to find out some best practice thinking in regards to internal support services. The above is a bit of a summary of the views and advice of some experts we spoke to with a bit of my own interpretation and opinion mixed in.

We’d like to thank the following people for their insights. Please note that this blog does not necessarily reflect their views or the views of my workplace.

Marvin Oka – Behavioural Modeller, Keynote Speaker, Corporate Consultant

Dr Simon Moss – Senior Lecturer at Charles Darwin University

Peter Howell – Group Manager HR Operations at John Holland

Michael Ingpen – Business Analyst

Saiful Nasir – Lead Consultant – Business Process Management

Craig Roberton – Principal Consultant at RXP Services Ltd

Craig Skipsey – Evangelist at

Robert De Wet – Semi retired construction innovation and bid coach

Dr Fiona Kenvyn – Human Factors consultant

Chris Burton – Asia Pacific Learning Development Manager at TMS

Sara Pazell – Occupational Advisor: Human Factors & Ergonomics/Human Performance Technologist

Marigo Raftopoulos – CEO Strategic Innovation Lab

Thought-terminating clichés? Whatever…

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

Sigmund Freud used to sit patiently whilst his clients rambled endlessly about their lives, waiting for the brief but insightful moments of clarity. This clarity was the unconscious mind, bursting through in snippets of slips of the tongue, pauses and moments of discomfort. So it goes.

Freud recognised that much of our conversation and discourse operated at the surface and was fairly meaningless. The true motivation and personality was buried under layers of neurotic complexity. Such is life.

This complexity is further heightened by our limited ability to understand others and the ever changing, strange world around us. Because true understanding is never quite achieved, it is puzzling that we ever feel satisfied or move on from analysing. It is what it is.

One mechanism we use to let go and avoid analysis paralysis is a thought-terminating cliché. To explain this concept, let me give you an example. Have you ever heard the cliché: ‘It’s all good’?. What does this actually mean? Because nothing is ‘all good’.

This phrase is a thought terminating cliché. It is a well-worn phrase used to terminate an end to the discussion. It allows the individual or individuals to move on from a topic and feel a sense of closure even though the phrase is essentially meaningless.

Some other thought-terminating clichés include: ‘it’s common sense’, ‘you win some you lose some’ and ‘just forget it’. We’ve probably used all of these from time to time.

The thought-terminating cliché is often used in workplaces to prevent others from analysing a comment or decision in too much detail. They may be useful in helping teams to move on from over-analysis, and may help reduce tension where there is a clear disagreement that is unlikely to be resolved.

Nevertheless, the thought-terminating cliché does not really help get to the heart of problems. As Freud would have understood, this cliché is just a way we help manage our interpersonal relationships and deal with the uncertainty around us.

This cliché can also be misused. Why? Because I said so.

Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was ridiculed for her utterance of the cliché ‘moving forward’ 24 times in a five minute speech. ‘Moving forward’ is likely a thought-terminating cliché designed to prevent discussion and analysis of the internal conflict that had plagued her political party.

Similarly, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and fellow party members regularly used the phrase ‘Stop the Boats’, referring to illegal immigrants, which could be considered a thought-terminating cliché to prevent further analysis about the policy.

So, it pays to listen to the phrases people use. They may just be trying to stop you from thinking. But, whatever will be, will be.

Now, let’s face it. If you haven’t already had your fill of thought-terminating clichés throughout this blog, you may be expecting another to wrap it all up. Well, you don’t always get what you want.

The betrayal of TV’s father figures

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Media Psychology by

I’m not sure I’ll ever see the funny side of a person being assaulted with excrement. But in recent news stories, published by News Limited, there is an implied celebration of this sick act performed on the disgraced Hey Dad actor, Robert Hughes.

Hughes deserves justice and his crimes are inexcusable. Convicted of sexual assaults, including vulnerable, young girls, Hughes was rightly convicted to serve at least six years behind bars.

The news stories were publishing extracts from a book by James Phelps called Murderous Prison: Behind the Walls of Goulburn Jail. The story landed with comical headlines like Robert Hughes’ crappy entry into Goulburn Supermax prison and quotes from the book including ‘It was one of the funniest things I can remember in the last year … you have to picture it.’

The portrayal of this man’s torture comes off the back of his betrayal. Robert Hughes not only betrayed the people close to him but also the millions of people who tuned in to watch the hit show Hey Dad.

Betrayal occurs when we have an explicit or implicit agreement with another person. The agreement can come in the form of a romance, friendship and work relationship.

We often form close bonds with fictional characters. It’s why we may weep when our favourite characters are killed off and celebrate their successes. Even without meeting the real Robert Hughes, so many had an intimate relationship with his fictional character and family.

When betrayal occurs, we not only experience distrust but it can also illicit feelings of revenge.

And the media relishes in nourishing our need for vengeance, hence the recent stories.

These stories also fascinate the public due to the juxtaposition of the harsh, raw cruelty of these appalling acts against the strong family values portrayed by their fictional characters.

Take another father figure, Stephen Collins from the religious drama 7th Heaven. Collins had exposed himself to underage girls in his past. During a therapy session with his wife, he was unknowingly recorded admitting his guilt and subsequently acknowledged his crimes.

Some criticised the betrayal of Collins experienced during a private session. Others were more concerned of his betrayal of the children from his past. This story stands out because he portrayed a reverend, raising and guiding values of his fictional children.

Interestingly, his confession has not prevented the return of the show on television recently.

Bill Cosby has taken a steeper fall from grace simply from the sheer scope of his alleged crimes. He has been accused of raping over 40 women during the years he was a beloved comic and father figure on the Cosby Show.

Many were outraged that Cosby’s crimes were presumably ignored yet were common knowledge amongst his peers. Perhaps we simply didn’t want to believe this icon could be capable. Betrayal cuts so deep that we’d prefer to believe the fantasy.

Either that or enjoy the sideshow of vengeance.

From automated coffee to automated everything with the internet of things

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Back in the 1980s, Mr Coffee automatically brewed your coffee for you in the morning. No, this wasn’t a friendly fellow with a convenient surname. It was a machine designed to appease your caffeine addiction.

Years later, the fad of automated coffee is still present but we all seem happy enough to walk to our favourite café and wait in line for one made by a chirpy barista.

But while we wait, our smartphones automate and connect with the entire planet appeasing an even larger suite of needs: social, entertainment, communication, education and so on. I call it ‘Mr Phone’.

These devices have already changed us. They have connected us to the lives of friends and family as well as our work colleagues. It’s often the first thing we check in the morning, right before that semi-automated coffee.

The smartphone is essentially a part of us whether we like it or not. But what if this was just the beginning?

An interesting global megatrend called ‘the internet of things’ aka ‘Mr Everything’ looks to radically transform us. Essentially, it involves the interconnectivity of everything around us through technology.

Here’re a few changes to your life once the internet of things really takes off.

You won’t need to take care

When cars can talk to each other and the infrastructure around them, they will be unable to collide. This means the almost elimination of road trauma and eventual redundancy of law enforcement on the road.

You won’t need to plan

Your pantry and refrigerator will automatically scan to see if you are getting low on groceries and will automatically scan supermarkets for the lowest prices online. The supermarket will deliver the items to your door or log your shopping list for when you arrive.

You won’t have to worry about your health

Personal sensors will allow monitoring of health remotely, freeing up hospital beds. Significant changes in health will automatically trigger the medical response who will be available before you even realise you are in danger.

You will be mentally healthy…finally

Your smartwatch will be able to measure your heartrate and infer your mood. It will be able to talk to other devices to examine your habits, alerting you to modify those habits that contribute to a decline in mood.

You will be allowed to be absent-minded

Your keys will be connected and so will never be lost. Your smart locks will close behind you and refuse to lock if your keys are inside. Your car will prevent you from running red lights or even speeding up at the yellow light. It will be talking to the intersection before you even get there.

Oh, and you will still have coffee ready for you when you wake up.

9 changes to characters that enrage comic book fans

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

The idea of nipples on the Batman suit sent fans into fury. There are countless discussions online about how the new Superman needs to put on the red underwear again after the recent costume update that occurred for the film, Man of Steel.

Fans of comicbooks are often susceptible to a phenomena called the ‘confirmation bias’. This bias makes us seek and support ideas that align with our preconceived notions.

It is believed that when ideas or changes conflict with these preconceived ideas, we experience ‘cognitive dissonance’, which means that we struggle to reconcile the difference in views, which can lead to an outright dismissal of the idea or person who creates the alternative.

More often than not, fans of comic books choose to reject alternative ideas and updates to their beloved characters. Here are seven changes that have enraged fans.

Joker’s tattoos in Suicide Squad


Fans praised the selection of Jared Leto as the Joker in the soon to be released Suicide Squad. But there was complete dismissal of the Joker sporting a suite of tattoos from head to toe. For many, the tattoos were out of character and overkill to an already over-the-top character.

Tiny Apocalypse in X-Men


He’s one of the most anticipated villains for X-Men fans. The comic book version is enormous in size and very alien-looking in design. Brian Singer has opted to tone the villain down in stature and appearance. This may make the villain slightly more believable but why bother trying to be realistic in a film where a man can shoot lasers from his eyes?

Bat nipples in Batman Forever/Batman and Robin


The infamous bat costume from the Joel Shumacher films included the bat muscles, bat cape, bad cod piece, and even nipples. Shumacher argues that the suit was modelled off the physique of Greek sculptures. Fans, however, used this particular quirky characteristic to define the moment the bat films of the 1990s crossed over to being campy and overtly sexualised.

X-Men wearing black leather in all the X-Men films


The flamboyant X-Men costumes from the comic book were always going to be difficult to translate on screen. Director Brian Singer answered the challenged by dressing everyone in black leather. It was a trend that continued across most of the X-Men films, even though we’ve seen ridiculous costumes translate fairly well in other comic book films, such as Thor and Captain America.




Joker wears make-up in The Dark Knight


It’s hard to nail the Joker. In the comic books, the villainous Joker is permanently scared with his skin bleached white after toppling into acid (don’t you hate it when that happens?). The idea of a man falling into acid and miraculously coming out looking like a clown is fairly unbelievable. This is why director Christopher Nolan depicting Health Ledger’s Joker with white make-up. Still, there is a vocal fanbase who still disregard this Joker for not being truly ‘jokerised’.

The Mandarin red herring in Iron Man 3


It’s the anti-climax that gets some chuckles but subsequently robs Iron Man 3 of any tension in the final act. The evil, sadistic mastermind, called The Mandarin, is revealed to be an actor called Trevor. One of the comic book’s best villains is, therefore, only realised as a joke leaving fans enraged.

Batman retires in The Dark Knight Rises


Nothing angers fans more than actually finishing a comic book story. The comics go on and on endlessly telling stories where superheros live to fight another day. There were many problems with the Dark Knight Rises but nothing irritated fans more than Christopher Nolan making Batman hang up the cape at the end and having a happy ending. Fans want to see poor old Batman miserable for eternity.

Superman kills in Man of Steel


Through convenient writing, superheroes rarely face difficult decisions where they must choose between killing to prevent the needless death of innocents. They usually find a way to incarcerate or concuss the bad guy. In Man of Steel, director Zak Snyder has Superman snap the neck of a villain who was intent on killing everyone on the planet. It’s the choice that anyone would have to make but nobody liked seeing the man of steel actually make that choice.

The Joker killed Bruce Wayne’s parents

Jack Napier

Yeah, it really is hard to get the Joker right. In Tim Burton’s Batman, the Joker is the one who murders Bruce Wayne’s parents causing Bruce to become Batman. This, of course, changes the dynamic between Batman and the Joker making the ideological conflict a personal one.

Can workplace initiatives improve your morale?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

When I was working part-time as a public servant I used to miss out on the free massage on Friday. The massage was probably a small part of a broader portfolio of health and well-being initiatives.

It was a nice idea but, of course, years later the media found out and twisted (or liberated) the story. The health and well-being benefits were overshadowed by the fact that a professional masseuse was kneading the various vertebrae of public servants.

I wonder if the back massage actually worked. Did it improve mobility and reduce workplace injuries? Probably not. But maybe it gave public servants a morale boost that subsequently improved the performance of the department. After all, perhaps just demonstrating care for our employees is enough to improve job satisfaction?

Research suggests that these appealing initiatives may only temporarily boost our mood. Over time these improvements may not only diminish but also result in a decline in mood, essentially balancing out any short-lived improvement.

This phenomena is referred to as the ‘overshoot effect’. According to opponent process theory, when we experience a spike in happiness we throw our emotions out of equilibrium. As a result, an opponent emotion, dejection, temporarily lowers our mood before it stabilises again.

Similarly, when we experience heightened anxiety, the initial distressing spike is felt followed by an opponent emotion—relaxation—that restores our mood to a steady state.

So, many of our efforts to promote a long-term improvement in well-being may be neutralised by the natural equilibrium of the brain and body. My colleagues may have enjoyed that massage but the enjoyment may have simply devolved into a mild depression before returning their malleable bodies and minds to a more normal state.

7 scientific findings that support Pixar’s Inside Out

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

When I was attending a lecture in psychology on Sensation and Perception, the lecturer described a story in amazement where a student said to him ‘what’s this got to do with psychology?’. Sensation and perception, the lecturer explained, was the very heart of how we understand and interact with the world around us.

The lecturer was right but missed the irony that this student had misperceived his material on perception.

This isn’t uncommon in psychology classes. Students walk in with dreams of Freud, inkblot and word association tests, and also the hope of understanding themselves.

Instead, they sit through countless lessons on statistics and listen to lots of different and seemingly loosely connected topics on personality, social psychology, sensation and perception, developmental psychology and so on.

What’s missing is what ties all the disconnected threads together. Some call it a theory. I think of it as more of a story.

Inside Out is a story that essentially integrates and explains the seemingly disparate pieces discussed in dry lectures. The film shows how these pieces come together using the metaphor of characters inside a young girl’s head, called Riley, representing the little girl’s emotions.

Here are seven clever and important psychological mechanisms that Inside Out nails.

Emotion helps formulate memories

Research shows that emotion helps us retain and recall memories. In Inside Out, the characters in the little girl’s head work to guide her through life but their ultimate output at the end of the day is memory formation.

Forcing yourself to be happy will make you miserable

My favourite depiction of emotion was ‘Joy’, a character who obsessed with suppressing another character, called ‘Sadness’. The harder she tried to prevent Sadness from generating memories, the more Sadness seemed to influence the memories and mood of Riley. This aligns with research that shows that suppressing emotions can simply make us more miserable.

Distance in time changes our perception of events

A powerful scene in Inside Out shows Riley recollecting a past, happy experience but suddenly feels a twinge of sadness as the character in her head, Sadness, contaminates the memory. Of course, it isn’t really contaminated. Riley is experiencing nostalgia, which is an emotion that connects us with meaning in the past and is associated with feelings of sadness.

Emotional diversity and complexity promotes resilience

Experiencing a wide range of emotions helps us adapt, according to studies. Riley’s character development was represented as forming more complex memories and emotions, which supports this research. This is different from many characters in films who are perceived as successful when they overcome, rather than embrace, ‘negative’ emotions.

Sadness triggers social support

According to functional views of emotion, sadness is believed to help trigger social support. When Riley finally accepts the emotion of sadness, she not only forms more complex memories but this emotion triggers support and love from her parents, which helps her cope.

Sadness helps you plan and improve

When we get an insight into the mind of Riley’s mother, some interesting foreshadowing is revealed. In contrast to Riley, the character in her head representing sadness has control, instead of joy. We realise that the character, Sadness, serves an important function. She helps Riley’s mother navigate, plan, and respond, which aligns with research that shows that mild dejection activates the region of the brain that helps us plan.

This makes sense given that after failing to fulfill our goals and dreams, we feel flat, which can help us re calibrate and change our approach.

Memories form our identity

Research shows that when we access experiential memory–where we store our most meaningful memories–we are more engaged. In Inside Out, Riley struggles for much of the film to recall and lean on her identity when she experiences agitation. This is consistent with research that shows that anxiety reduces access to this part of the brain.

Through metaphor, I was impressed how the writers of this film where able to engage me the way many University lecturers failed. In a strange way, the individuals who work at Pixar seem to instinctively express and communicate their knowledge of psychology more than individuals who devote themselves to analysing them. This includes me. I’m envious but also in awe.

6 reasons why being open to learning is your finest quality

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

There are billions of people on this planet and very few are really the best at what they do. The number one sportsperson in the world only holds that position for a brief period of time.

The highest paid and much loved actor can find themselves struggling on the small screen, trying to get in the limelight again. The top executive is only celebrated in prosperous times until it is time for fresh blood.

Each day, we have our own little triumphs and opportunities to shine. But many of us feel the need to promote our skills, experience and achievements at every opportunity. After all, if we don’t do it, who will?

This tendency to self-promote or to demonstrate our prowess is called a ‘performance-orientation’. I once worked with someone who was always quick to highlight their breadth of skills. They also liked to tell me the story of their childhood when they were identified as ‘gifted’ and put into a special program.

In other situations, the performance orientation isn’t so blatant. It can come in the form of someone resisting a good idea because it makes them feel inferior for not thinking of it themselves. It shows up when someone fails to listen because they are waiting to educate you about what they know.

But think back to those times you spoke to someone who genuinely paused to consider your view. Or maybe it was a moment where someone admitted to a group that they were unsure about what to do and were seeking some ideas. More often than not, you probably valued and respected them.

Think about the time you were truly engaged in what you were doing. It is often where you are learning something that intrigues or interests you. This is referred to as a learning orientation.



6 Key Benefits of a Learning Orientation

People like you. Yep, it’s funny that people tend to prefer your company when you are open to listening and learning as opposed to showing off your talents.

It improves cooperation. When groups adopt a learning orientation, they are not motivate to out-perform each other.

Improved resilience. If you always want to shine, this places a lot of pressure on you, including worries and doubts about what people think of you. If your goal is to learn, this is no longer such an issue.

Your attention improves. Because you are less concerned about impressing others, you can focus more attention to the task at hand and—ironically—enhance your performance.

Improved creativity. Individuals who adopt a performance orientation are generally more conservative because they want to maintain their persona in front of others. This closes their thinking to new or different ways of thinking. A learning orientation has the reverse effect.

You learn. Probably the most obvious benefit is that when you are open to learning, you may actually learn something that betters you as a person.
Now, if I was adopting a performance orientation, I might end this blog with ‘I hope you learned something’. Instead, I’ll close with remake more indicative of a learning orientation:

Please let me know what you think. Share your thoughts and challenge me.

Mad Max Fury Road is more about death than feminism?

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

Mad Max Fury Road has big, bold action scenes and even bigger, bolder themes. What are people talking about online?

There has been a lot of discussion about Mad Max being a story about feminism. However, a random google search of themes suggests we are more interested in the topic of suicide (5.4 million hits the last time I checked). Then there were the other popular categories: sex, death, horror etc.

I checked this on different browsers to avoid any customisation effects caused by the browser I use most of the time.

It’s all about death…really

One of the most intriguing theories I often write about, terror management theory, ties a lot of these themes together. The theory basically suggests that we all unconsciously use defence mechanisms to cope with idea that we are going to die one day.

Terror management theory explains everything from culture, religion, values, rituals, consumer behaviour, and even gender roles.

Here are a few examples of terror management in Mad Max Fury Road:


The characters worship symbols, like steering wheels, vehicles, tattoos, and branding. Terror Management Theory suggests that we use symbols as a means of living on after we die. That is, if we wear or endorse a symbol, we are unconsciously associating ourselves with something that can live on forever.


The captive women are kept ‘pure’ and clean. Terror management theory suggests that all cultures place higher grooming standards on women because they are more involved in reproduction. This theory suggests reproduction is actually a subtle, unconscious reminder of our mortality and relationship with the animal kingdom. We, therefore, try to obscure this association by artificially concealing and modifying our appearance to be less like animals (see waxing, laser treatments, and blow waves).


The chief villain talks of an afterlife. Death anxiety drives beliefs of the afterlife across cultures to reduce this anxiety. The loyal foot soldiers live to die a glorious death. Like suicide bombers, these characters are brainwashed into believing that death is glorious not something to be feared.


All the characters are somewhat suicidal and overtly masculine. They live to drive at high speeds, through storms, and across deserts and are unstoppable in their carnage. They play electric guitars and carry an arsenal of guns. The reinforcement of cultural values, such as masculinity, risk-taking, and violence is a form of symbolism. This, again allows us to feel like we are contributing to a longer living purpose.

The villains and heroes band together like families. The villains engage in controlled breeding and prioritise the bloodlines of their family. By ensuring the survival of our genes, we essentially live on in our offspring. Another form of terror management.

No doubt the film has many powerful themes. But forget the debate about feminism. This film is primarily about death in a big way.

Game of Thrones TV Show Vs. Books

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

There is an endless struggle and debate that rages about what’s better: the book or the movie. Readers claim films and TV shows are never as good as the source material. They are also angered when a TV show or film detours too much from this material.

The creators of these shows and films have a delicate balancing act. They need to somehow capture what made the book so interesting and engaging in the first place but are also hampered by time constraints, and budget.

Why do TV and film have to deviate from books?

Creators are also influenced by what they perceive to be different consumer needs. Research suggests that the medium we choose (i.e. film, TV, book) may be influenced by these needs.For example, research suggests that fantasy stories meet our desire for thrills. Fantasy portrayed on TV and books appear to meet this need. However, literature generally meets another need as well, called ‘aesthetics’, which is an interest in complexity and nuances.Perhaps this may explain why book readers can be so easily frustrated when the complexity and nuances from the books is watered down for TV and film.

Game of Thrones balancing act


Take the popular series Game of Thrones. The series on which it is based ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ has sold a reported 24 million copies worldwide. That’s 24 million people who are primed to watch the show.The audience for the show is even larger. For just season 4 of Game of Thrones, there were over 18 million viewers, which doesn’t factor in the millions who illegally download individual shows or those who purchase the DVD.It’s safe to assume that many of these millions of viewers are a mix of book readers as well as those who would never take on the epic read.

At some point, there’ll be a crossover of needs.

Book lovers will be aghast at their beloved story being chopped or streamlined. Television lovers may get frustrated by the drawn out plots that are better suited to novels.

I remember reading articles that predicted doom for the series after staying true to the books and  killing off the main character, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), in season 1. They claimed that the removal of such a high profile actor would not resonate with fans of the TV show, suggesting that television requires a different mentality to the books.

They should somehow find a spot for Eddard. An idea that’s absurd in hindsight.

As both show and book fans know, this death is a catalyst for many of the most exciting plots. The show quickly differentiated itself from other television shows by having a reputation of killing off popular and—seemingly—untouchable characters to shock viewers and send the plot down interesting and unpredictable paths.

More recently, the writers have deviated from the books significantly. The last two books were renowned for being slower in pace, and for introducing a number of new characters and sub-plots. The writers addressed these concerns by streamlining the stories and cutting many of the new characters. Has deviating from the books paid off? Let’s look at some of the most significant changes from the show.

Change #1. Jamie and Tyrion Depart on Good/Bad terms


When dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, is sentenced to death in Season 4 of Game of Thrones, his brother, Jamie, comes to the rescues. They embrace and part ways. In the novel, things don’t end well.In a backstory revealed in the earlier novels and first season of the show, Tyrion talks about a woman he loved who turned out to be a prostitute paid by Jamie to show his brother a good time. The woman was then raped by a gang of Tywin Lannister’s—Tyrion’s father—army and sent on her way. Jamie reveals she was never a prostitute. Their love was real.In anger, Tyrion dishonestly claims to have killed Tyrion’s son, Joffrey, and informs Jamie that Cercei—Jamie’s lover and sister—has been sleeping with a gamut of other men.

Why the series is better: The writers planned for Jamie to go on a quest to help Cercei, in Season 5 which would have been hard if he resented her. Even though Tyrion’s backstory was revealed in Season 1, many of the viewers would have forgotten and found it hard to reconnect with this particular story.

Why the book is better: This scene sets up Tyrion’s quest to find his one true love. The books imply he will find her, perhaps promising a happy ending for Tyrion. Meanwhile, Jamie is disgruntled and abandons Cercei, leaving her to self-destruct with no hope Jamie will return to save her.

Which is better: The book


Change #2  Jamie visits Dorne


In the show, Jamie travels with fan favourite, Bronn, to Dorne to rescue his daughter, Marcella. He fights, gets captured and finally makes peace with the Prince of Dorne.In the book, Jamie is nowhere near Dorne. He takes off to the Riverlands to negotiate peace terms after the war. Meanwhile, in Dorne we are introduced to several new characters and a slow, emerging plot that reveals the Doran has sent his son to Mereen to marry the dragon queen, Daenarys Targarayen. Why the show is better: The show gives us some adventures with Jamie and Bronn and keeps the plot lean. The various sub-plots and characters from the books may have been confusing and are edited to present a simpler, cleaner story.

Why the book is better: The book introduces us to a completely new culture through the eyes of new characters. It takes time to get to point, but presents Doran as a patient player and wild card in the Game of Thrones.

Which is better: The book.


Change #3. Tyrion meets Daenerys


In the latter books, Tyrion spends much of his time travelling, meeting a variety of new characters. When he finally makes it to Mereen, we can only hope that he’ll meet Daenerys and we’ll finally see these two important characters align. However, they never meet.In the show, Tyrion’s travels are condensed and cut right back. He even meets Daenerys and commences advising her in some of the better scenes of Season 5. Why the book is better: George RR Martin knows we want Tyrion to make his way to Meeren, befriend Danerys and return to the seven kingdoms to help right all the wrongs. The fact that Martin didn’t give the readers what they want will just keep us more interested for the next chapters.

Why the show is better: The Tyrion chapters in A Dance with Dragons were notoriously disliked by a vocal fanbase because they dragged on so long and started to make Tyrion unlikeable. The show has short circuited this and has managed to keep most of the highlights from the book.

Which is better: The show


Change #4 Sansa meets Ramsay Bolton


In the books, we don’t know what happens to Sansa yet but the show has pushed forward with re-engineering the Theon Greyjoy storyline. The book has cruel Ramsay Bolton rape and torture another character, Jeyne Poole, who is posing as Arya Stark (it’s a long story). In the show, Sansa replaces Jeyne much to the horror of book readers.Why the books are better: It’s hard to know what will happen to Sansa but being raped and tortured by the Boltons seems a bit much after she’s endured so much already.Why the show is better: The Jeyne Poole chapters were more about Theon Greyjoy overcoming his post-traumatic stress to redeem himself. The show provides an opportunity for this redemption to come in the form of saving Sansa, which may be more powerful to the audience.

Which is better: Unknown until we see the new Sansa chapters.


Change #5 Stannis burns Shireen


Stannis Baratheon has a bit of a cult following. In the books, he’s one of those underdogs whose motivations are grey. He does horrible things, like burning people, but also remains fiercely committed to his own code of honour.In the latter books, George RR Martin lets us warm to the character by uniting him with hero, Jon Snow, rescuing the Night’s Watch and then taking off to take down the evil Boltons, the primary antagonists.Stannis even appears to be shifting away from all the burnings and returning to his roots when he leaves Melisandre—the red witch—back at the Wall with Jon Snow.

In the show, Melisandre accompanies Stannis with his daughter and wife. Stannis is still committed to his religion and sacrifices Shireen to the fire prior to his battle with the Boltons.

This deviation from the books removes the grey from Stannis’ character and makes his actions irrefutably evil.

Why the books are better: We are slowly warming to Stannis when it is revealed that he has been defeated in battle. It’s not known whether this is a deception, but it creates a drama that may now be missing from the show.

Why the show is better: The show gives us the inevitable pay-off of Stannis sacrificing his soul for his ego. He will win at any cost and the burning of Shireen is one of the more shocking moments.

Which is better: The books.


Change #6 Mance Rayder is executed


In the books, the wildling king beyond the wall is sentenced to burn by Stannis Baratheon. However, the red witch— Melisandre —uses her magic to change Mance’s appearance with another character, Rattleshirt, who burns in his place.Mance ultimately leads a rescue mission to save a woman Jon believes to be his sister, Sansa. Mance is then presumably captured by the Boltons, energising the wildlings to assist Jon to rescue their leader.In the show, Mance burns and his story ends.

Why the books are better: Mance has a better rapport with Jon in the books and becomes a sort of mentor/ally. The sub-plot throws yet another motivation for Jon to abandon his vows to save his friend.

Why the show is better. The books are a bit convoluted here. Melisandre sudden ability to change people’s appearances seems a bit convenient and ultimately pointless, and the Stannis plot may not really go anywhere other than finding him captured and finally killed.

Which is better: A draw.

Overall Winner: The Books


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